Going Indie in the Midst of a Pandemic


It has been almost a year since we decided to quit our jobs and go full-time indie. I am writing this blog post to talk about our experience working on Republic of Jungle in the past year. We started our company, Gerdoo Games, in May 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and this past year has been a roller coaster ride. Our social deduction party game, Republic of Jungle, is set for release later this year, and it has a coming soon Steam page you can check out: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1413250?utm_source=blog

Where we started

Let's go back to where it all started. I moved to Seattle in the summer of 2017, and in the first few months that I was here, an old friend invited me over for a game night at her place. That's where I first met my current business partner, Moein. That night we all played a game of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Our friendship grew stronger as we got together more often, playing more tabletop games and a lot of Jackbox Party Packs games. At one of those game nights, I found out that Moein had hacked a small web app for One Night Ultimate Werewolf to make both the moderation and gameplay easier and smoother. People took their game actions on that web app, and there was no need for eye closing and separate day and night phases, making the game much faster and easier to play for all the players. I, myself, have been making small video games and publishing them for mobile and PC as a hobby since 2012 and have always participated in game jams whenever I knew one was being held somewhere nearby. So being a game dev nerd, I naturally saw a potential in that idea. I started talking to Moein about his project digitizing a popular tabletop game. He had some ideas, I had some ideas, and at the end, we decided to start exploring bringing different mid-core to hard-core tabletop games to a platform similar to what Jackbox had developed: The main game runs on a shared screen such as a TV, and all the players connect to the game using their personal devices and play together.

So, we decided to start rapidly prototyping different ideas and seeing which one can be a good fit, not knowing what a hassle playtesting a party game is. You can imagine how hard it is to get at least 4 to 5 players together for every playtest, running an ugly-looking, buggy prototype for them. And this became a side project of ours, working on different prototypes and playtesting them every few weeks for three years. We never saw any considerable potential in any of those prototypes until late 2019 when Republic of Jungle's initial idea was born. We had prototyped a few social deduction/hidden role style games during our exploration, but none of those looked like a major improvement to the tabletop version. I decided to look into Avalon as one more attempt to bring social deduction into a Jackbox-like platform. And boy, was I surprised! There was so much room to add new mechanics and innovation to the game in this new digital platform. Not only our platform enabled us to make setting up, running, and moderating the game more accessible, but it also enabled us to add new mechanics and features to the game because of the peer-to-peer secret actions player could take on their phones. From the early prototypes, we knew we had something promising here. Everyone had fun, and every time we finished a round, almost everyone wanted to start a new game.

Quitting our jobs and the pandemic

Seeing the potential for this new prototype, we decided to quit our jobs and become full-time indie developers. It was a difficult decision to make and a huge risk to take. Both Moein and I had well-paying jobs at the Tech Industry in Seattle, and the idea of us quitting these jobs to pursue this dream of ours made people question our sanity. Also, Seattle is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the United States and probably globally, and it is hard not to make any money while you are busy developing the game with no external investments and funds. This move definitely would not have been possible without the support and help of our wives. Moein has written a series of blog posts about the process of making this decision.

We made this decision, and we communicated to our managers in early 2020 that we will be quitting in May. In March, while we were getting ready for this massive transition in our lives, the Covid-19 situation happened, and the entire world went into panic mode. Seattle was the first city that got hit in the US, and we started working from home in a lockdown situation. The stock market had a mini-crash in mid-March, and we were seriously questioning our decision, but a couple of encouraging things happened in those dark months at the start of the pandemic that gave us hope. While people stayed home and played video games more than ever, one game they played a lot with their friends over Zoom and Discord calls was Jackbox. Jackbox Party Packs was bringing people together better than anything else during the lockdown, and their numbers were through the roof. We also put together a better-looking and more complete prototype and started playing it with friends over Zoom calls. Our own game became the main reason we hung out on video calls every other night with friends during those days. People loved it. They messaged us almost every night asking if we would play again that night, and they were also taking this half-baked prototype to play with their own friends. They recorded these 2-3 hour-long videos from their Zoom calls and emailed them to us to watch and study them as playtest sessions. Those hard and time-consuming playtest sessions I talked about above became these great videos we could watch on our own and at our own time, making the process significantly more manageable for us. So, things were looking great. Later in the summer, the Among Us phenomenon happened too. I do not want to get into details of that as you already know the story, but it proved that the social deduction genre is now mainstream everywhere in the world, and that was a great sign for us.

Gerdoo Games and Republic of Jungle

We quit our jobs, established an LLC, and named our studio Gerdoo Games (Gerdoo means walnut in Farsi, and there is this traditional game with walnuts called "Gerdoo Bazi" and "Bazi" means "game" in Farsi, hence the name Gerdoo Games). We started to work with Erfan Malek, our art director, who I previously had worked with on a small project years ago. He had more experience than both of us in the game industry, having worked on games like Children of Morta and Shadow Blade: Reload.

The first thing we did was coming up with a good theme and back-story for the game. We knew we wanted to have this political-satire-themed story where there was turmoil in the White House and the President was trying to figure out who is loyal to him and who is trying to backstab him. We quickly noticed that given the political climate then, it might become a bit controversial, and we might see a backlash. So, we thought, what if this all happened in an alternate reality where the animals had a country that was the superpower in the political world, and all this was happening in their "Bite House"? That was how the story for RoJ was born, and President Puma and his nemesis reporter, Fiona Fox, became our lead characters.

Reception and events

Next, we worked on a closed Alpha to start a community of players in our Discord server and use it to participate in PAX Online in September 2020. Although PAX Online was not as popular as their IRL events for the fans and did not give the game much exposure, we got numerous people joining our email list and Discord server to get access to our closed Alpha. RoJ also got a lot of wishlists on our newly built Steam page. This was a moral boost showing us that people get our game, and there is an audience for it. A few streamers picked up the Alpha, and they streamed it on Twitch and YouTube, and it was great to see people playing the game live on these platforms.

The next milestone was to finalize the art, add audio and music to the game, and make a narrated tutorial with VO and get a demo together for Steam Game Festival, which was happening in February 2021. While we were busy with this work, we participated in 2 other events that showed us how important it is to put the game in front of its core audience. The first one was Steam Digital Tabletop Fest. We got the most significant spike in our wishlist numbers during the 4 days of the festival, showing us how the game appeals to tabletop games fans. The second one was Boardgame Geeks Con which was a digital event in Discord this year. The reception by the participants was excellent. They got the game, appreciated the new mechanics enabled and added to the game because of this digital Jackbox-like platform, and joined our Discord servers as some of our most loyal fans.

In February 2021 we put our demo on Steam as part of Steam Game Festival and got more than 4000 downloads, with hundreds of games played during that week.

The future

Currently, our goal is to launch the game towards the end of Summer 2021. We are busy polishing everything, fixing bugs, and adding new features such as streaming features for audience interaction on streams. We got nominated for the Best Multiplayer game award at the BIG festival alongside some great titles like Streets of Rogue, Secret Neighbor, Embr, and Hypercharge. We got approached by a super popular platform to port our game and add it to their games catalog (sorry, I cannot name them right now, but it will be revealed in a month or two). Our community has gotten larger and larger, so we have added Amir Salamati as our community manager to the team to help us with our community-building efforts. We have moved to the Closed Beta phase making RoJ Beta available for free to our Discord server members.

I also wanted to talk about the results we got from our marketing and community-building efforts and share our numbers, but I think those stuff will be much more insightful after we launch the game. I promise to publish another blog post in the Fall and discuss those numbers as I think sharing is essential in our industry. I personally have learned a lot from Simon Carless and Chris Zukowski's posts about marketing and business this past year.

Finally, I want to thank all our friends and family and fans who have supported and cheered for us along this path and have always made us more confident in what we are doing. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post about our journey, and please join our community on Discord if you like these types of social deduction party games and want to get access to our closed Beta.